Oregon St. Holds USC At Bay

Jared Cunningham (1) soars to score 2 of his career high 24 points, to lead Oregon St. to an 80-76 win over USC. (Photo by Andy Wooldridge)

Final Score: OSU 80 USC 76

After a competitive start to the game, Oregon St. opened a 10 point working margin going into halftime, and took control of the game early in the second half, going up by 16 points with 16 minutes left on a pair of free throws by Devon Collier. USC cut down three quarters of the lead over the last three quarters of the second half, but never got closer than the final margin of 4 points.

The Beavers took a 37-27 lead to the locker room, pushed their lead to 47-31 four minutes into the second half, and closed out USC to win 80-76.

Jared Cunningham had a career high 24 points, including 10 of 14 from the free throw line, to lead the Beavers, and Omari Johnson had his best game in weeks, turning in a 12 point, 11 rebound double double.

"I feel like we played really hard," Cunningham commented. "Everyone came together at the beginning of the shoot-around today, and talked about how we needed to come out, be prepared, and start early, and it carried over into the game."

Lathen Wallace and Calvin Haynes both came off the bench to add double figure scoring totals as well.

"It's the difference in a couple of days, and playing 40 minutes as opposed to 20," Oregon St. coach Craig Robinson said, comparing the game to Tuesday night's 62-57 loss to UCLA. "I couldn't be happier for those seniors. They've been having a tough time, and tonight they pulled us through, they made all the plays they needed to make."

Wallace connected on a critical three pointer midway in the first half that gave the Beavers a boost, while Cunningham took a break, and also flew in from the weak side well above the rim for a putback of an Ahmad Starks three pointer that misfired. Wallace finished with a dozen points.

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Lathan Wallace (34) scores against Alex Stephenson.

Robinson started Roberto Nelson in place of Haynes, but Haynes still contributed 11 points, making every shot he put up.

"We talked about it at practice yesterday," Robinson explained. "We just needed to get a freshness, a change. Calvin has always played well against USC so we thought, `man, if he comes off the bench playing like that, maybe that will give us a little bit of a spark,' and that's exactly what happened."

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Haynes (22, scoring above) played only 20 minutes, but didn't seem to mind.

"Whatever the team needs," Wallace said. "It's something we talked about in practice. It's not punishment, it's just something different that the team needs. That's where coach wants me, so I'm going to come off the bench and play. I have no problem with it; I'm just playing this role like everyone else on this team, and trying to help us win."

Joe Burton made only 5 of his 8 free throws, and as a result, came up just short of double figures, with 9 points.

But Burton concentrated on other aspects of the game, serving up a pair of assists, including a behind the head flip pass to a cutting Cunningham for a layin with 3:24 left, after the Trojans had cut the Beavers' lead to 5 points. When asked about the pretty pass afterwards, Burton only chuckled.

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Joe Burton (11) scores two of his 9 points for Oregon St.

Burton also blocked a pair of shots in the final minute to foil USC's last hopes of a comeback win.

USC's Nikola Vucevic was uncontrollable, leading everyone in both scoring and rebounding. Vucevic shot 67% from the field, including a pair of three pointers, to finish with 26 points, and also pulled down 14 rebounds. However, Vucevic, who had pulled USC within 5 points again with an offensive rebound and basket with 18 seconds left, couldn't connect on a dunk, and Cunningham put the game out of reach with a free throw for the frustration foul Vucevic collected.

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Vucevic (5, above) also gave USC their only lead of the game 7 minutes into the first half, but consecutive baskets by Haynes erased that quickly.

"Nikola Vucevic is so, so good," Robinson commented. "He's right up there with Derek Williams as being the best guy in the league, in my eyes. That guy is going to enjoy playing in the League (the NBS) because there won't be all of these zones there, and he's so skilled."

Jio Fontan added 14 points for USC, and Maurice Jones (10, below, driving against Jared Cunningham) reached double digits as well, with 10 points, but only by hitting a three pointer with 3 seconds left.

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Fouls and free throw shooting was the key to the game for Oregon St. The Beavers hit just shy of 70 % from the line, connecting on 27 of 39. In contrast, USC only got to the line 13 times, and sank only 7 of them. Both Vucevic and Marcus Simmons both fouled out, and Fontan and Garrett Jackson, from Beaverton, OR, and Westview High, both had 4 fouls. Jackson shot 80 % from the field, but foul trouble limited the freshman to 9 points, and 13 minutes.

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Jared Cunningham (1) scores after the pass from Burton, a play

typical of Oregon St.'s better weak side play.

 

The largest crowd of the season at Gill, 7,257, saw the Beavers play one of their best games, and certainly one of their most versatile, of the season. The Trojans did gradually crawl back within striking distance late in the game, but when was the last time Oregon St. was in a position to play clock ball starting 4 minutes into the second half, against a good team, and be able to trade points for minutes for 15 minutes?

"I was nervous," Robinson admitted. "I was wondering when we were going to mess it up. No, I'm kind of half-kidding. It felt good in that there is such a difference, and I try to convey this to the players, when you make the other team have to make shots like we're always doing, we're always in position where we're fighting back and we have to make shots, they become harder. It's just a harder shot."

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OregonSt.;s Omari Johnson (24) scores against USC's Maurice Jones (10)

and Nikola Vucevic (5).

USC once again struggled on a number of possessions against zone defenses, often attempting to break the Oregon St. zone defense down off the dribble. Having to settle for less than optimal shots on a number of occasions led to the Trojans shooting 45% for the game, compared to the Beavers' 55%.

"We made our lay-ups tonight," Haynes said. "We rebounded like we needed to, got stops when we needed to, and executed down the stretch. That got us the big win tonight."

Two missed layups late in the UCLA game contributed to a 7-0 Bruin run that erased the Oregon St. lead.

Robinson felt USC actually "did a good job against our 1-3-1 this time. It was our 2-3 that was really stymieing them."

USC had yet another bad trip to the state of Oregon, having also lost 68-62 to Oregon Thursday night, in the opening of Matthew Knight Court. The Trojans have now lost three in a row to Oregon St., and four of five, including their last three visits to Gill Coliseum. Which goes nicely with their three game losing streak across the street at Reser Stadium, and their five consecutive football losses in the state.

Never mind the reduced trips to Oregon that Pac-12 expansion will bring, USC would probably like to never set foot in state again.

The Trojans dropped to 10-8, and 2-3 in conference, and headed home for games against the Bay Area schools next week.

The win improved Oregon St. to 8-9 overall, and 3-3 in the Pac-10, and snapped a three game losing streak. The Beavers next action will be another home game, the first of two Civil War matches with Oregon next Saturday at 3 PM. FSN will have the game tv coverage, as they did tonight. The Ducks (8-10, 1-5) couldn't hold onto a 27-24 halftime lead against UCLA today, built on a 10 point run, as the Bruins clawed out a 67-59 comeback win to hand Oregon their first loss at "Matt Court".

(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com

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